Your Scoopettes love to eat our way around Spain. Every region of the Iberian Peninsula and its islands offers something a little different to snack on, and Madrid is no exception. But how do you know what’s typical and tasty in town? Take a tour. We’re big fans of food tours and wine tours, and give Lauren Aloise’s tours a Scoopometer 10! Cat Gaa, our writer in Seville, recently went on Lauren‘s tour and this is what she thought about it. Take it away, Cat!
By Cat Gaa
Lauren Aloise knows the way to this girl’s heart: good conversation and great food. Meeting me in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor one wet Saturday morning, she immediately knew where to take me for an introduction to food in Spain’s pulsating capital city: for churros and chocolate. The warm chocolate stuck to my insides as I asked my hostess about her young business.
Launched in summer 2012, Madrid Food Tour is a company dedicated to providing visitors to Madrid with walking tours featuring the city’s greatest culinary treasures. Working with the tour’s founder, Lauren, means a personalized tour chock-full of stops (an average of eight or nine on each tour!), city history and culture, and tantalizing food choices.
Lauren is an effervescent guide who knows what she’s talking about. As a self-professed foodie, Lauren grew up in an Italian family obsessed with good food and cooking. When she considered opening a business in Madrid, Lauren knew where she could best use her strengths: a business that combines Madrid’s beautiful architecture, long history, and its food. Madrid Food Tours was born.
In a country touted for its cuisine and world-class chefs, Madrid is a city that offers food choices galore for nibbling, dining and drinking. I took the Signature Tour, hoping to change my mind about madrileño eats – which I find expensive and unexciting – and the culture of eating in the capital.
After the warmer of churros, Lauren led me towards a bustling market, Mercado San Miguel, with stops to visit some of the city’s famous sites right near Kilómetro 0, the spot from which all major highways originate and distances are measured. Lauren’s insight into a city she’s fallen in love with gave me the context to understand the ways in which Madrid’s trendy fusion bars have elbowed their way into spaces next to age-old establishments like Casa Botin. Steering away from the ancient churrería and into a modern market seemed like fast-forwarding 100 years.
As a lover of food markets myself, Mercado San Miguel’s renovated space combines the romantic iron shell of the structure with a bustling and modern interior. Booths offering Madrid’s typical aperitivo, vermouth, Spanish wines, oysters, cod specialties and gourmet croquettes lined the perimeter of the building, leaving room for tables in the middle. The place was abuzz on a Saturday morning just before Christmas, so I was glad tour groups are kept small – they’re designed for a maximum six guests, allowing Lauren to really listen to guest needs and tastes.
We veered a bit off the tourist track to another local market. The two-story mercado was full of the older generations picking up Christmas goodies, shouting at shop owners who carved cuts of meat, weighed vegetables and poured glasses of wine. We snacked on cured meats, cheese and tangy olives with anchovies, enough to keep our bellies happy and our feet moving, as well as start whetting our appetite. I loved how Lauren was quick to answer any question I had, and her friendly demeanor was extended to many of the vendors – she knew them by name and they treated us as if we were the only customers they’d had all day.
As we sat down to eat lunch a short while later, my eyes scanned a menu with pages of local eats. Unlike Seville, Madrid’s chilly winters call for stews and meat, and Lauren explained sweetbread, tripe stew and grilled pigs’ ears to us and how they’re each prepared. We played it safe: gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), fried calamari and battered and fried anchovies, washed down with a caña (beer) and a shot of sweet vermouth.
Leaving satisfied and convinced that Madrid has more to offer than just bocadillos de calamaris (calamari sandwich) and the ethnic food I so dearly miss in Seville, I had just one more question for Lauren: where do we get dessert?
Always one to go the extra mile for her guests, Lauren steered us to a pastry shop, elbowed her way to the counter, and grinned widely while handing me a chocolate pastry.
Madrid Food Tour also offers routes for those with food allergies and vegetarians, as well as the route in French with an experienced guide. The cost of the tour includes all of the information, food and drink, and handpicked recommendations for after the tour – from flamenco to restaurants – so the company advises taking the tour at the beginning of a visit to Madrid. Gratuity is not included.
Ready to take the tour? Get more info here: http://madridfoodtour.com/
Author’s note: I was a gracious guest of Madrid Food Tours’s Signature Food Tour. All opinions expressed, however, are and will always be my own.